Memorandum by Judith Cook (PRF 07)
PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING
As an ordinary passenger frequently using First
Great Western I would like to ask you to think hard and give very
serious consideration before granting them an extension to their
franchise. Their performance not only during the Hatfield rail
crisis, but both before, and after, has been absolutely appalling.
They are currently blaming almost all this on
Railtrack. I hold little brief for Railtrack and agree that speed
restrictions have contributed to FGW's lack of punctualityone
of the worst records of any company. But First Great Western's
faults go much further than that. Even before Hatfield, time after
time I travelled on trains where the engine "failed"
or there were faults in the rolling stock. I have waited at Paddington
while they tried to find a driver for a train. I have travelled
on overcrowded trains where the air conditioning didn't work and
the toilets stank.
But this is as nothing to what has happened
this summer. In order to retain their franchise from the Strategic
Rail Authority, FGW had to promise to put on more trains between
Bristol and Paddington. To this end, therefore, they removed most
of our HST trains (themselves ageing and prone to breakdown) and
replaced them with 1960s rolling stock. Unsurprisingly the rate
of breakdown has been even worse. Our local papers have been full
of horror stories of journeys taking over seven hours to or from
Paddington. During the rail repairs following Hatfield, we continually
had to take buses for part of the journey. This has been happening
again over the summer due to trains continually breaking down.
I'm sure Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber will be happy to confirm this.
(At least they sent him a crate of expensive champagne and a bunch
of flowers when he complained). As he rightly said, FGW should
be sued under the Trades Description Act since they are neither
First nor Great.
Journey times are now much slower, not only
because of the poor quality of the rolling stock but also because
they are trying to fit in more stops on this long journey and
so cut back on trains. It would probably have been quicker in
the days of steam. Information is hard to get and sometimes, I
believe, deliberately misleading. I can give one example where
we were asked to leave the train at Bristol (due to rail problems
we were diverted that way) as there was a problem with the train
and told that a bus would take us to Exeter as there was no ongoing
service to the west of England. But no bus came and while we waited
outside the station a Virgin train to Penzance came in and left.
It could easily have accommodated everyone.
I was invited on to the BBC's You and Yours
programme to put my point to a senior manager who responded to
it with what I can only describe as staggering complacency. All
we get is the same mantra: most of the problems are down to Railtrack
and FGW will be spending £18m on new rolling stock. Not only
do we not know when, we have already been told that the new trains
are not for us.
For the last two or three months I have, reluctantly,
taken again to the road. Either driving to Exeter and taking the
South West Trains service to Waterloo (which is very good), driving
to the Home Counties and picking up a suburban service, or taking
advantage of trips to the midland to go to London for the day.
Cornwall is considered the poorest county in
England which is why we have Objective One status. Every effort
is being made to attract business down here and increase our tourist
trade. With an outfit such as First Great Western running our
monopoly service between here and London neither is likely to